The World’s Your Oyster: Travel Books Part One: Travellers

Having just had a feast of time travel through the history and prehistory books of our library, it is now time to explore our own world in the physical sense with some of our lovely travel books! In these days of cheap mass-travel, organised tours and party tourism, it is easy to forget that travel was once much more difficult and at times quite dangerous. The early plant hunters endured many perils, diseases and discomforts, as did early visitors to Australia, as discussed in some of the books in my previous post. So, I thought I would start this post with personal travel accounts and writers (Tuesday), followed by a slew of travel books for dreamy contemplation and inspiration (Wednesday), and finally, travel books about the practicalities (Thursday)!


Wayward Women: A Guide to Women Travellers by Jane Robinson 1990

I loved this book. If you love history and travel like me, this is the perfect book for you! It’s a fascinating account of 400 remarkable women travellers and writers over 16 centuries. Jane has organized the women into broad groups: those who travelled voluntarily : the pioneers; explorers and adventurers; the financially independent sportswomen; the escapees and wanderers; the sight-seeing tourists; the travel writers; the missionaries; and those to whom travel was a means to an end (scientists; artists; and governesses); and those travelling by default: the wives of diplomats, explorers, military men and those dragged kicking and screaming; as well as the stories of emigrants and life in the bush, though many of the resourceful women described could fit into a number of categories.

Each section is organized alphabetically by surname, while a geographical index in the back lists the women by area. The literary achievements of each woman are listed at the beginning of each entry, followed by fascinating details of their life histories. These short passages make you want to know more about these amazing women, so there is a useful bibliography in the back, as well as contemporary and historical maps of the areas they visited. The stories are so interesting, inspiring, amusing, harrowing and very addictive. It’s hard to put this book down!

Dervla Murphy is one of the women described and we own a number of her books. These are two of them:

Wheels Within Wheels by Dervla Murphy 1979

Essential reading for Dervla Murphy fans, who want to know more about her childhood and formative influences. Dervla was born in 1931 in County Waterford, Ireland, the only child of a country librarian and an invalid mother, who was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis.

While growing up in poverty, Dervla was surrounded by books. I loved the description of her paternal grand-parents’ home, where every flat surface, including the floors, was covered in tottering piles of seemingly disordered books from a wide eclectic range of subject areas from the Birds of Patagonia, the History of Printing in North Africa or the Bogotrid Sect of Tenth Century Bulgaria!

The gift of a second-hand bicycle and a secondhand atlas for her 10th birthday whetted her ambition for a lifetime of travel after her parents died in 1960 and 1962. She cycled to India in 1962, the subject of her first book:

Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy 1986

While she was cycling through France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan, and over the Himalayas to  Pakistan and India in 1963, Dervla kept a detailed diary of all her experiences, which formed the basis of this wonderful account of her travels.

She writes so well and has a keen eye for detail and appreciation of the countries through which she cycled and the locals, who befriended this solo woman traveller. It was such an amazing trip, followed by a stint working with Tibetan refugee children, which she writes about in her second book: Tibetan Foothold.

Her next trip was to Nepal, followed by trekking with a mule through the Ethiopian Highlands. Dervla gave birth to her daughter Rachel in 1968, and as a single mother, introduced her to India, Baltistan, Peru and Madagascar during her childhood. When Rachel was 18 years old, they travelled together to Cameroon and in 2005, the pair took Rachel’s three daughters with them to Cuba. For more on this truly amazing traveller, see: and, as well as a link to the trailer for the 2016 documentary on Dervla Murphy:

Another wonderful and entertaining travel writer is William Dalrymple and while I have yet to read more of his books about India, I do own this next one:

In Xanadu: A Quest by William Dalrymple 1989/ 2010

Born in 1965 and studying history at Cambridge, William set off during his studies, aged 22 years old, to retrace the steps (literally!) of Marco Polo from Jerusalem to Xanadu, the Summer palace of Kubla Khan in Mongolia.

He travelled over 12,000 miles on land (road/train) through Israel, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and China at a time of great conflict. The Iran-Iraq War had just finished the previous year, but the Palestine-Israel conflict was still raging, Afghanistan was under Soviet occupation and China still very much closed to outside world and foreign travellers.

He wrote about this amazing journey in his first book, which was received with much acclaim, winning the 1990 Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award and a Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award and shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize. His other books have also won numerous awards and in  2002, he was awarded the Mungo Park Medal by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society for his ‘outstanding contribution to travel literature.’ For more information about this interesting author and his books, see:

Another historian traveller, who bases his travels on historical journeys is Tim Severin, about whom I have already written in my post of our prehistory library, but his books fit equally well into the travel category.

Tim has had such an amazing and interesting life and holds the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society and the Livingstone Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. You can read more about him on : Here is an example of one of his books:

The Spice Islands Voyage: In Search of Wallace by Tim Severin 1997

We have always been fascinated by Alfred Wallace, the Victorian naturalist, who simultaneously proposed the theory of natural selection and evolution, for which Darwin received most of the credit. Wallace is also known as the father of biogeography, his name commemorated in the Wallace Line, which is the boundary between the Australasian and Asian ecozones, occurring in the 25 km wide straits between Bali and Lombok. For more on Wallace and the Wallace Line, see: and

In 1996, Tim Severin retraced Wallace’s explorations of these East Indonesian islands, using Wallace’s famous book, The Malay Archipelago, and a replica traditional Moluccan square-rigger sailboat, the prahu. He visited the harbors, the nature reserves and the rainforests that Wallace visited, photographing the many wonderful butterflies and birds, checking out the environmental record and interviewing local officials.

In this book, Tim writes about destructive environmental practices, including rainforest clearing and the smuggling of rare species, as well as the importance of the survival of ancient ways of life and the preservation of environmental diversity.

We would love to visit this area one day to see all the amazing flora and fauna: the turtles, gibbons and orangutangs, Komodo dragons, birds-of-paradise and tropical butterflies, and may well use this website in the future:

But, in the mean time, we dream and browse our beautiful travel books, the subject of my next post tomorrow…!!!

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